Grieving the death of my husband Bill was, in the first two years, mostly about gut wrenching pain; tears; feeling lost, alone and confused. I fumbled about; missed him and our life; grieved all he lost; and lived in a fog of sorts. I was overdoing and under doing and more. However, as I look back now, those years were also about insights, learning, growth, and incredibly compassionate wounded healers who know grief well. These people, strangers for the most part but now friends, came into my life, heard me, helped me and still support me as I walk my journey through pain. Wounded healers are real people; people unafraid of pain, tears, loss, death and grief. Many of them are deeply involved in changing attitudes and knowledge about loss, death and grief as we relate to it (or not) in our culture. These years taught me how poorly we as a society understand and deal with grief. Many, too many, do not know how to reach out to someone in the throes of grief's agony. Instead some disappear quickly following a death. Others try and want so much to help, but just do not know what to say. It is that lesson that drives my passion to assist those who grieve and to help change the way our death phobic society deals with loss, end of life issues, death and grief.
I am launching this website on the fourth anniversary of Bill's death. It seems impossible that it has been four years since I felt his final heart beat beneath my hand...his final exhalation on my cheek. It also feels like a century ago since I have seen him, hugged him and heard his wonderful voice. Bill was my husband, best friend, soulmate, and colleague. We fit hand in glove. He was a clinical psychologist with a long history of clinical work and always a waiting list. We practiced together for many years. Losing him, as every one who has lost a spouse knows, meant losing a part of me. It meant losing our lifestyle, my co-worker, and well...our normal.
Grieving a significant loss is not a straight line...far from it. There are no stages of grief. It is like a tangled mass of strings, ribbons, and yarn, all with many knots. The journey is filled with twists and turns, ups and downs and it takes longer to heal and learn how to live with loss than our society comprehends or wants to allow. I once likened it to walking the singular path on a labyrinth and there is validity to that analogy but "tangled ball of string, ribbon, and yarn with many knots" says it well also. Healing grief is a journey and only those who have truly walked through the heart of a significant loss, feeling its pain, can possibly comprehend it. I knew loss well before Bill died but losing my beloved spouse is, as C.S. Lewis said so well, "like an amputation." It is life changing and affects every aspect of life. It is shocking, confusing and lonely. In addition to the pain, sadness and loss of so much, there is the added challenge of figuring out a new normal, a new life with purpose and meaning. I am still learning how to carry grief, integrate it into my days and soul and ultimately grow from it. It all takes time, energy, presence, hope, and support.
So few understand the grieving process because we live in a society where we learn to hide our pain. The risk of vulnerability is just too big. That was a lesson I learned early on. But that was just one of many lessons. I had no idea when Bill died what kind of roller coaster ride I was in for. I did not know grief acted like a powerful tsunami that would toss me out to a sea of sorrow and a darkness I never experienced before. Smaller waves of grief were also new to me. These waves come in suddenly some knocking me off my feet while others moved past me rather gently. I have seen grieving clients in my office for many years sobbing their hearts out, wailing at times. I have held them in my arms, almost holding them together. In spite of that and the many losses in my own personal life, I still did not really know the pain of losing a spouse. How could I? It took losing Bill to drive that home. I say that with sadness and humility. I did not know then, but I do know now and I will spend my life helping those who are in the throes of grief and educating people as best and as gently as I can.
Do I miss him? More now than early on. At first I was in such pain and a fog descended upon me and my life, protecting me for many months. Waking up out of the fog close to the first anniversary resulted in an onslaught of pain that I was not sure I could take, exhausted as I was from the journey. The awareness of secondary losses also grew. Now the pain, most but not all days, sits rather quietly in the back of my heart. I am always aware of it. Always. Even when it appears that I am not. It is a part of me and of my life. Ever present as are the joyous thoughts of Bill and our life. It is my teacher. It has helped me to be more compassionate, more understanding, more grateful, more aware, more present. It is, above all, a sign of the deep love Bill and I shared for so many years.
Does it get easier? Well, yes, in some ways, I guess 'easier' is as good a word as any. I know now when I hit rock bottom, I will come back up. I know pain will not destroy me. I know pain will come and knowing pain makes it easier to deal with it. The gut wrenching pain I felt constantly during the early months can still engulf me and can hit out of nowhere. But it is not constant anymore. I know it lurks around the corner and can hit me at any given moment. I am incredibly aware of pain and grief as well as I am aware of joy and gratitude. It also gets more difficult in some ways. Not too long after Bill died, I realized the world was going on with life while I was frozen in time. It was not long before my loss was never mentioned by anyone unless I brought it up and like most grieving souls, I hesitated to do that unless I felt safe with the person, i.e. I was certain that I would get an appropriate response. Those folks are rare but I am blessed with some in my life. This path is lonely. The Grief Healing Discussion Group where I am now a moderator/counselor provided the greatest amount of comfort and insight.
I begin year five today, March 27, 2014 at 10:46 a.m. It is sort of my New Year's Day now. I have no idea what the year will bring. But does anyone know what a year will bring? I do know that when it is over, I will look back and know that I "still" miss Bill; that I "still" have tough moments or days. In the end, I am very alone in spite of good friends and family; and I am deeply aware of the existential "aloneness" we all live with but which got masked when I shared life so intimately with a loving and kind spouse who cherishes me. I will help those new to grief or who are dealing with an old loss that they tried so hard to bury. Reading and learning more about loss, grief and healing has become a passion as is sharing what I learn in hopes of being a change agent in the way individuals and our society avoids sadness, loss, death, and grief. Making art, playing with our dog Bentley, sharing time with friends who are real occupies my days as does meditation, spirituality and nature. I listen to my own voice and do not really care what others think I should or should not be feeling or doing. I will continue to heal and trust myself in my process.
What tools are you using to heal that loss?
The only way through grief is through the pain.